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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 January 2006, 15:23 GMT
Big rise in liver cirrhosis cases
Man drinking
Cirrhosis is linked to heavy drinking
Excessive alcohol consumption is being blamed for a big rise in deaths from the liver disease cirrhosis in Britain.

While deaths from the disease are falling elsewhere, a Lancet study shows they have soared in England, Scotland and Wales since the 1950s.

Total recorded alcohol consumption in the UK is estimated to have doubled between 1960 and 2002.

The study was carried out by King's College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Experts said the UK Government had not done enough to try to tackle the problem.

New licensing laws came in at the end of last year allowing bars, pubs and clubs in England and Wales to serve alcohol around the clock.

The researchers calculated death rates for liver cirrhosis using data from the World Health Organization.

They found steady increases in death rates in Scotland, England and Wales during the 1970s.

This accelerated in the 1980s, and again from the nineties onwards.

Bucking the trend

In contrast, death rates for both men and women in other European countries declined by 20% to 30% from the early 1970s.

Between the periods 1987-1991, and 1997-2001, male deaths from cirrhosis in Scotland more than doubled, and in England and Wales they rose by over two-thirds.

For women, rates increased by a half in the same period.

Overall, liver cirrhosis death rates in Scotland are now about double that of the European comparison group.

While alcohol consumption has soared in the UK in recent years, other European countries - particularly the mainly wine-drinking countries of Southern Europe - have recorded a drop in consumption.

Researcher Dr David Leon said: "Current alcohol policies in Britain should be assessed by the extent to which they can successfully halt the adverse trends in liver cirrhosis mortality.

"The situation in Scotland warrants particular attention."

Priority needed

Also writing in The Lancet, Dr Robin Room, of Stockholm University, accused the UK government of failing to tackle the issue of excessive alcohol consumption.

Through the development of a more civilised approach to drinking and the tougher powers to tackle badly run premises, there should be a positive impact on health
Department of Health

He said: "The government has turned a determined blind eye to the problem and has failed to make the reduction of the population's alcohol intake a policy goal.

"Through the new alcohol licensing law and the official guidance on it, the national government has also done its best to tie the hands of local government on this issue."

Professor Ian Gilmore, chairman of the Royal College of Physician's Alcohol Committee and liver specialist at Liverpool University Hospital said it was not surprising that deaths from cirrhosis were rising sharply.

He said: "This is supported by day-to-day observation on the wards, where cirrhosis has become commonplace in men and women in their 20s and 30s.

"While we support many aspects of the government's alcohol strategy, the bottom line is that alcohol-related harm will continue to rise until we address the fundamental problem that we are drinking too much as a nation.

"The proven way to reverse that is to tackle the unpalatable issues of price and availability."

Government response

A Department of Health spokesperson said action was being taken to cut deaths from liver disease as set out in the Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy.

This included a campaign to promote responsible drinking among young people, a clampdown on irresponsible promotion, and extra funding for services for people with alchohol problems.

"The research in the Lancet was undertaken before the new licensing laws came in. The new laws are just one part of the solution.

"We believe that, through the development of a more civilised approach to drinking and the tougher powers to tackle badly run premises, there should be a positive impact on health."


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